If you’re a millennial, let me explain: A stamp is like a sticky paper thing with a fancy design on it that you put on an envelope so the person who drives that funny looking white truck/jeep with the eagle on it while dressed in a Cub Scout uniform will pick it up and take it where you want it to go. Wait…, what’s that? What’s an envelope? Ugh, never mind.
With the vast majority of today’s communications being conducted electronically (email, social media, Skype, auto-bill pay, etc.), the idea of a stamp is kind of nostalgic. Believe it or not, stamp collecting is making a comeback. Let’s take a look at 5 stamps that command much respect… and money!
THE PENNY BLACK
Arguably the world’s most iconic stamp, the Penny Black is recognized as the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used in public postal. Issued in Great Britain on May 1, 1840, it features a profile of Queen Victoria, who presided over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901.
Based on the fact that it’s the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black is highly sought after by stamp collectors (Philatelist) and quite valuable. Rare Penny Blacks have fetched hundreds of thousands at auction.
Here are a few interesting tidbits: To this day, all British stamps have a portrait or silhouette of the monarch integrated into the stamp’s design. In addition, Britain doesn’t place its country’s name on its postage stamps, making them the only country in the world not to do so.
THE PENNY RED
The Penny Black gave way to the Penny Red in 1841. The primary reason for the change was simple; color. Due to the difficulty in seeing the black cancellation mark used to void a stamp from being reused, the color was changed from black to red. The Penny Red quickly surpassed the Penny Black as the dominate postage stamp used in Great Britain and Ireland until 1879.
In 2012, an extremely rare Penny Red was sold by rare stamp dealer, Stanley Gibbons, to a private client for £550,000. That’s approximately $796,345 in today’s dollar. With millions of Penny Reds printed, what made this stamp so special was the printing plate used to create it.
Flaws in “Plate 77” produced stamps with uneven perforations. Recognizing the flaw, the printer destroyed the flawed stamp sheets – with the exception of at least one that mistakenly made its way into circulation. At present, there are only 9 such stamps known to have survived.
1867, U.S. “Z-GRILL” Stamps
In 1867, the United States Postal Service released a series of stamps known to modern day collectors as “Z-Grill” stamps. The stamps featured the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin. So what the heck is a Z-Grill and why is it so special?
Known as the Z-Grill, a subtle pattern was pressed into a stamp, creating tiny indentations in the paper. The use of grills permitted the canceling ink to be better absorbed into the paper, which deterred scammers from washing off the ink and reusing the stamps.
There are three extremely rare versions of the Z-Grill stamp; the Benjamin Franklin 1-cent (2 copies known to exist), the Abraham Lincoln 15-cent (2 copies known to exist), and the George Washington 10-cent – Green (4 copies known to exist). The use of grills was discontinued after 1870 due the impracticality of producing the stamps.
Given their extreme rarity, their value is nearly immeasurable. Nearly. If one ever came onto the market, some estimates have the Benjamin Franklin 1-cent stamp projected to sell for $900,000.
THE INVERTED JENNY
Wait, doesn’t the Inverted Jenny have something to do with Kama Sutra? Nope, it’s just the most famous error ever produced by the U.S. Postal Service.
Accompanying the introduction of mail service by air on May 15, 1918, was a staggering air-postage rate of 24-cents (compared to 3-cents for first-class mail at the time). A stamp had to be created for the new rate, so the Postal Service decided to pay homage to the plane that would carry the mail – a Curtiss Jenny JN-4, or “Jenny.” In advance of the first flights, the first “Jenny” stamp was issued on May 10, 1918.
Due to the patriotic color choice of red and blue, each stamp sheet had to be run through the printing press twice – a process prone to errors. Several misprinted, 100-count sheets were identified during the printing process and quickly destroyed. However, one sheet of 100 stamps slipped into circulation.
THE BRITISH GUIANA 1 CENT MAGENTA
One is the loneliest number… but very valuable.
Thanks to some ingenuity by a British Guiana postmaster in 1855, the remarkable story of the rarest stamp in the world was born. After being shorted 45,000 stamps from Great Britain, and with only 5,000 stamps on hand, a local postmaster needed a quick fix for his postage problem.
In order to deliver the colony’s letters and newspapers, the postmaster needed a way to document paid postage while he waited for the remainder of the stamps to arrive from Great Britain. So the postmaster turned to the British Guiana newspaper, the Royal Gazette, for help.
The paper imitated the design of the British-issued postage, including an illustration of a ship surrounded by the colony’s Latin motto: “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and we ask in return). The paper produced three stocks of stamps: one-cent stamps (1c magenta) intended for newspaper delivery and two varieties of a four-cent stamps (4c magenta & 4c blue) that were intended for letter postage.
160 years later, there is only one known to exist. And if you want it, you better bring a ship full of cash because it ain’t gonna be cheap! The only known stamp to survive is a British Guiana 1c magenta. In 2014, it sold for a whopping $9,480,000, breaking the world record for a single stamp auction price – which it did the previous four times it was sold!